U.S. employers added a better-than-expected 263,000 jobs in April, as the nearly decade-old economic expansion shows no signs of slowing. And the unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 % — the lowest in nearly 50 years.
A monthly snapshot from the Labor Department showed solid hiring in services, construction and health care.
“Our outlook and my outlook is a positive one — is a healthy one — for the U.S. economy for growth for the rest of this year,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday.
The economy picked up steam in the first quarter, growing at an annual 3.2% rate — well above its pace at the end of 2018. Retailers saw strong sales in March after a ho-hum February.
The pace of hiring in April was stronger than the monthly average of 186,000 jobs in the first three months of the year. Analysts had expected the April number to grow by about 185,000.
Average wages rose at an annual rate of 3.2% — strong, but not enough to spark fears of inflation. Workers’ productivity surged in the first quarter, and the additional output helps employers keep their costs in check.
“We don’t see any evidence at all of overheating,” Powell said Wednesday. “For a long time now, there have been anecdotal reports of labor shortages and difficulty in finding skilled labor and that kind of thing. Nonetheless, you have very strong job creation.”
Inflation has been running below the Fed’s target of 2%. But Fed policymakers opted not to lower interest rates at their meeting this week, despite pressure from President Trump.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that the U.S. economy would go “up like a rocket” if the Fed slashed rates by a full percentage point. Powell said the Fed would not be swayed by pressure from the White House.
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